Let’s not forget we’re choosing our politicians while the world burns down around us

“To be clear: It is the responsibility of high-office holders to put policies in place that will facilitate positive systemic change; it’s also their responsibility to hold large polluting companies to account. If Canada were anywhere close to meeting its own climate targets, Wilkinson’s support of Shell’s advertising ploy might have been forgivable. But we’re not. And until we are, the only message we should be hearing from politicians like Wilkinson or companies like Shell is what they are doing to decarbonize. That being said, let’s not forget who’s been choosing our politicians while the world burns down around us.”

Arno Kopecky – The Narwhal – August 2021

Great Canadian Longform’s New Faces of 2020-21 Contest

Every semester, journalism and writing students across the country create longform pieces as projects for class, but most of them go unpublished. When I think back to the creative non-fiction course I took as an undergraduate, very few of the pieces created (including my own) ever saw the light of day.

That’s why Great Canadian Longform is excited to launch its first-ever contest to try and bring some of these works to the wider world. Please read on for contest details. Further details on judging will be announced after the submission period is closed. There are no “places” or “ranks” in this contest. We expect to announce the winners in late August 2021.

To encourage the widest variety of submissions, there is no entry fee and no age restriction to participate in this contest.

At least three winners will receive:

-A $100 cash prize

-Feedback on their piece and assistance with crafting a pitch and placing their piece with a Canadian magazine, newspaper or digital outlet (No guarantees, but we’ll do our best to help!)

-A Q&A about them and their piece posted at GCL’s website and shared with our audience

Our goal is that these prizes will help boost the profiles of these emerging writers, while also hopefully creating an opportunity for them to publish their work and get paid. Pieces on all topics are welcomed from personal essays to reported features.

Eligibility to enter:

-Your piece was written for an undergraduate feature writing/creative non-fiction/journalism class taken in 2020-21 at a Canadian university/college (All majors/concentrations welcome to apply)

-Your primary residence is in Canada

-Your piece has a minimum word count of 2,000 (Sorry, no exceptions.)

-Your piece has not yet been published elsewhere online

-At the time of entry you haven’t been published outside of student media or a personal blog/website. (This is to encourage writers who haven’t yet had the opportunity to publish and build a portfolio and connections with other Canadian media outlets.)

Dos and Don’ts

Do:

-Do send all entries to greatcanadianlongform@gmail.com

-Do email your piece as a PDF with your last name and page numbers on each page.

-Do put the following information in your email body: Your first and last name, academic institution, course and instructor name, the title of your piece, a short description of how/why you chose the topic of your piece (up to 100 words) and a brief personal bio (up to 50 words).

Don’t

-Don’t send in multiple entries. (One per person please!)

-Don’t submit academic papers. This is strictly a contest for nonfiction essays and reported features.

-Don’t submit something you wrote specifically for this contest. Our goal is to recognise pieces that were worked on as class projects. (We will verify this for winning entries.)

How to submit:

Please email submissions (information in email body, piece attached as a PDF) to Rob Csernyik at greatcanadianlongform@gmail.com

The deadline for submissions is Friday, June 18, 2021 at 11:59 PM Pacific.

Questions?

Please email us with any questions, but note that it may take us a few days to get back to you.

Good luck,

Rob Csernyik

Editor, Great Canadian Longform

FAQs on GCL’s Patreon Account

1.-Why is Great Canadian Longform starting a Patreon account?

GCL is starting a Patreon account with two strategies in mind. First, to allow me (editor Rob Csernyik) to turn this venture into a part-time job instead of a mere passion project. A portion of funds received from patrons will allow me to set aside time from paid writing projects to work on GCL, creating new opportunities for readers and writers and growing the platform. The second strategy is to produce original content for readers, a goal impossible to reach without financial backing and reader support.

2.-How will you stay accountable for these goals?

GCL will produce a short, quarterly update (and a more detailed annual report) outlining progress on goals and how money was spent during the period in question. Because we’re launching the Patreon account with one month left in the 2021’s first quarter, a combined Q1/Q2 report will be released in early July.

3.-How will Rob get paid?

At $15 an hour, to a max of $900.00 monthly starting out. (This equals 15 hours a week of GCL-related work.) This wage will go towards offsetting the time spent on research and daily sharing of pieces, creating newsletters and working towards the short and long-term project goals outlined on our Patreon page.

4.-Why is $1500 the minimum goal for commissioning or partnering on content?

The minimum rate I’d like to pay for pieces commissioned by GCL is $500. I would also set aside $100 per piece for myself to support in-house editing. We anticipate contributing an equivalent figure to partner pieces.

5.-What sort of original content does GCL hope to publish?

To start I’d like to focus on personal essays and/or profiles in the 3,000-word range. I’m particularly interested in stories that have a sense of place in Canadian communities that don’t always get a lot of play on our site. (For example, the Atlantic Provinces, Manitoba, Northern Ontario or the Territories.)

As far as reported features/investigative work I’m interested in partnering with other smaller digital outlets and magazines to split costs and editing work in order to produce this type of content. My hope is that together we could produce the sort of work (and offer a rate to the writer) that each publication couldn’t on their own.

6.-Can publications which may wish to partner reach out to GCL?

Yes. I’m interested in hearing from you even if we may not start doing this sort of work for several months.

7.-Can individual writers start pitching GCL content?

No. Once we’ve reached our goal and are ready to accept pitches there will be a public call for pitches. Please stay tuned to our newsletter or Twitter account for more information. Thanks for your patience.

8.-What does it mean that an extra portion of Avid Reader Gold patronages offer a devoted contribution to content?

This money will be earmarked for partner projects only and will not be used for other purposes.

9.-What about any opportunities not currently listed in your goals (such as a podcast)? Do you have other ideas for the future?

Technically, the sky’s the limit, but to start I’ve selected these projects because I believe they fit well with GCL’s mission and offer opportunities to grow incrementally and sustainably. (But yes, a podcast is of interest down the road.)

Further questions? Please send us an email or Twitter message. Thanks for your support.

Best of 2020 Q&A: Andrew Duffy

Andrew Duffy appears on our Best of 2020 list for the piece “The Boy Called Vimy.” You can read it at the Ottawa Citizen.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Andrew’s answers:

How did you start working on this story?

Vimy’s drowning was covered as a news story in early July, but his name wasn’t released by police and his family didn’t come forward so the event quickly disappeared from local media. But Vimy’s death notice appeared in the paper and I emailed his mother one month after the tragedy, saying I would like to write about her son. I received a kind reply in mid-September.

How long did it take to write this piece?

I worked on the story off-and-on for a month.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

The key challenge was to capture the personality of a 14-year-boy in a meaningful and honest way. Vimy’s parents, Eilis and Justin, graciously facilitated interviews with Vimy’s teachers, coaches, relatives and friends. Together, they offered me the anecdotes that are the lifeblood of any profile.

Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?

At this point in my career, my writing process is fairly well established. I start with a single paragraph that captures the essence of what I’m seeking to write: A boy full of mirth and mischief, kindness and confidence, Vimy Grant died as the sun set on the first Friday in July: He leapt into the water from the Prince of Wales Bridge and never resurfaced. His family and friends are now trying to come to terms with that terrible accident – and navigate their river of grief. I then decide on the narrative structure: Where in the timeline do I want the story to begin? How to build in suspense? How will the timeline move? I write and interview intensively, full-time, until I have my first draft.

After that, I obsessively rewrite, edit, fuss, edit, rewrite and fuss. This is part-time work and is always well-served by changes of scene: For some reason, I’m a much better editor on the couch, fortified with bourbon.

What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

This was an extraordinarily difficult story and the pandemic made it harder still. I had several emotional meetings with Vimy’s parents, and it felt unnatural to maintain physical distance when people are so much in pain. I would have also liked to visit Vimy’s bedroom – to understand it as a microcosm of a 14-year-old boy’s world – but that just wasn’t possible.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject during the process?

Vimy was a compelling young man. Unusual for a 14-year-old boy, he was physically affectionate with his parents – he hugged them at the hockey rink – and thoughtful (he wrote to thank his Grade 8 teacher). He was also scared of spiders and heights. The latter was a fear he had to overcome to climb to the top of the Prince of Wales Bridge.

What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

The story was well received because it solved the mystery of what happened on the bridge that night while offering a portrait of a boy in full. Many parents, I think, could imagine their own child taking the same kind of risk. I think readers also recognized the immense courage of Vimy’s parents in sharing their grief.

For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

The best writing tip I was ever given came to me from former Toronto Star city editor Lou Clancy who told me I had to become a better reporter if I was to be a better writer. It is a plain and simple truth: If you don’t push yourself in the reporting phase to better understand your subjects, unearth anecdotes, detail and truth, no other writing tip matters.

What writing projects are you working on currently?

Right now, I’m working on a feature about the only man in Canada who has been investigated twice for serial murder.

Find Andrew on Twitter: @citizenduffy

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.

GCL reading list: 2020’s Best of Canadian COVID-19 longform

Last year, during a particularly quiet week for Canadian longform I ran a week of themed archived content because I needed to build a reserve of new pieces.

For someone used to sharing six new pieces a week (plus one from the archives) I started to wonder if COVID-19 might cause a long-term disruption in the genre. In its place, I noticed a rise in quick hits, Q&As and other forms of writing as media outlets grappled with the pandemic sweeping the globe.

But over time, I noticed a steady return of the sort of writing we share, much of it shaped by COVID-19.

When looking through the pieces GCL shared related to COVID-19 (more than a month’s worth of daily shares, for the record) I wanted to celebrate stories that were well-crafted and really captured feelings, moods and questions about Canadian life during the pandemic.

Here are six pieces we’ve previously shared about COVID-19 ranging from a nursing home tragedy, to the disruption of mourning, to one writer’s experience in an isolation hotel. They are listed in the order they were released.

Thanks for reading,

Rob Csernyik

GCL Editor

“What went wrong in Bobcaygeon: How the COVID-19 pandemic killed 29 people at an ill-prepared nursing home”

Sam Riches – National Post – April 2020

“Your Brain on COVID-19”

Carolyn Abraham – The Walrus – May 2020

“The pandemic has disrupted death and mourning in ways we don’t yet understand”

Christina Frangou – Maclean’s – July 2020

“This Toronto teen lost his mom to COVID-19. Now he’s starting the school year without his fiercest ally”

Jennifer Yang – Toronto Star – September 2020

“A Long-Term Tragedy”

Simon Lewsen – The Local – November 2020

“Here’s what it’s like inside Toronto’s COVID-19 isolation hotel”

Emma McIntosh – National Observer – December 2020

Best of 2020 Q&A: Vicky Mochama

Vicky Mochama appears on our Best of 2020 list for the piece “Black Communities Have Known about Mutual Aid All Along.” You can read it at The Walrus.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Vicky’s answers:

How did you start working on this story?

I have wanted to write about mutual aid and money pools for a long time. I’ve been talking to Caroline Hossein, the York University professor who has spent a long time studying informal economies and women running them, for years now and looking for a way to tell this story. But the inspiration to really resurface this history and practice came about during the pandemic when I started hearing more about different forms of mutual aid, especially the idea of them as a novel strategy. I pitched it to The Walrus and the lovely and very patient Hamutal Dotan said yes.

How long did it take to write this piece?

It took around three months from pitch to getting page proofs.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

Writing it.

Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?

I print every version of the piece and do rewrites by hand.

What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

I write as often as I can about Black people and Black communities; many of the conditions highlighted by the pandemic already existed for Black folks. A key point of the piece is, in fact, that Black people have been in a state of emergency for ages so many of the solutions people turned to were ones that had already been embedded in our communities. If anything, everyone I wanted to speak to was busier than ever.

What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

I’ve really loved hearing from people who are not Black about how mutual aid looks and has historically worked for their communities.

For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

I’m still learning so much myself that any tips I have to offer would be ones I haven’t tried.

What writing projects are you working on currently?

Grand apologies for emails that I haven’t responded to.

Find Vicky on Twitter: @vmochama

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.

Best of 2020 Q&A: Debra Thompson

Debra Thompson appears on our Best of 2020 list for the piece “My Black ancestors fled America for freedom. I left Canada to find a home. Now both countries must fight for a better world.” You can read it at The Globe and Mail.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Debra’s answers:

How did you start working on this story?

I was asked to do a public lecture as a fundraiser for the Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene, Oregon. The “Ideas on Tap” series is hosted at a local brewery and is designed to bring academic research to a broader audience.

I wasn’t ready to present my latest research, but I knew I was leaving my position at the University of Oregon and had a lot of complicated feelings about leaving the United States to return to Canada. So, I decided to talk about it to an audience of strangers. Much to my surprise, the brewery was completely packed. The audience was so interested and engaged and supportive that I thought maybe the piece could turn into something publishable.

How long did it take to write this piece?

Probably about a month to write the presentation and I then spent some time over the next several months tweaking it.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

I am a political scientist – by training, anyway – and so I don’t write about myself. Ever. Writing from or about personal experiences is not an approach that is viewed positively in my discipline. Writing for a general audience is also a very different style than what I’m used to.

In many academic settings, opaque writing is a kind of moral credentialing; complexity is frequently considered a proxy for intellectual worth. But you can’t reach a broad audience that way. At the same time, I write about race and racism and I will never simplify the terms of the debate. There is too much at stake. So, striking a balance between complexity and accessibility was certainly a challenge.

Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?

I have two children under five, so I write when I can, as fast as I can, anywhere I can. Sometimes I try to get up early to write, but somehow, they know. And they wake up. And then we’re all just up early.

What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

The schools and daycares in Oregon shut down in mid-March. They did not reopen. Any semblance of work-life balance I pretended to have pre-pandemic was eviscerated in an instant. It is impossible to work full-time and take care of children full-time.

Any time that I found to write had to be negotiated with my partner, who had his own full-time job and obligations, or was stolen while my children napped or were momentarily distracted. The pandemic has most tragically stolen lives from us, but it has also stolen time, and my sense is that we – all of us, but most especially women, racialized minorities, and low-income populations – will feel the psychological, emotional, and professional consequences for decades.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?

Huh. I guess it was surprising that anyone would be interested in hearing about my very personal and peculiar take on my experiences of racism in Canada and the United States. This is also my research, and so I think and write and live and breathe it all day, every day. So, the surprise was both wonder at the incredible reception to my story, and shock that so many people had never thought about the realities of racism in these countries.

What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

It’s hard to tell, actually. My sense is that the piece struck a chord with many people. I’ve presented different versions of this piece in various forums, and the audiences are always large and captivated. But it’s also an essay about race and racism in societies that are still defined, overtly and surreptitiously, by white supremacy. I get a lot of hate mail.

For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

If you get stuck on a sentence or idea, write around it and keep going. My drafts frequently have the phrase “[something something]”.

What writing projects are you working on currently?

I’m turning the essay into a book! More details on that should be announced soonish. And, of course, I have my day job as a political scientist at McGill University. In 2021 I’ll be finishing up a project on racial inequality in Canada with Dr. Keith Banting of Queen’s University, writing an article on Black Lives Matter and Black Political Thought for a special issue of the journal South Atlantic Quarterly and I think I have committed to write three book chapters for edited volumes. It’s going to be a busy year, but what a charmed life I have, to write for a living. 

Find Debra on Twitter: @debthompsonphd

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.

Best of 2020 Q&A: Julian Brave NoiseCat

Julian Brave NoiseCat appears on our Best of 2020 list for the piece “Interiority Complex.” You can read it at the National Observer.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Julian’s answers:

How did you start working on this story?

My father had an art show opening in Whistler—his father’s territory. Originally I was going to try to get some local journalists to cover it, but then one of my friends and editors, Emilee Gilpin, who was at the National Observer at the time suggested that I write the story.

How long did it take to write this piece?

It took a few interviews and a couple of days. Not long at all.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

I like to see and interact with the people and subjects I write about in person. During the pandemic that obviously wasn’t possible, which was a bummer because I was really excited to see my dad’s first show in his fatherland.

Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?

As I’ve learned more about writing, I’ve gotten pretty big on process. I start by typing up all my interviews and then I figure out an outline. To get through writer’s block and the fear-of-blank-page phenomenon, I trick myself into thinking about the task as turning notes into prose.

What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

I don’t like just reporting over the phone and wish I could have seen my dad and his art in person. I do think you get more of the details, and therefore the literature, that way.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?

The piece is about my father’s complicated relationship with his father as well as my complicated relationship with my father. The title, “Interiority Complex” refers to one of the core tensions in the piece, which isn’t just about our inherited inferiority complexes as Indians, but also about how my dad has felt “less-than” in the art world because he’s not from a coastal nation and is sometimes looked down upon in the art world for that reason.

What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

My dad loved it and cried. That’s good enough for me.

For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

Writing takes time and practice. If you put in the work and the hours, over pieces and years you will see your writing improve by leaps and bounds. I can hardly bring myself to read the stuff I was writing just a couple years ago.

What writing projects are you working on currently?

Lots of things! I’ve always dreamt of writing books and am hopeful that I might get to do that soon.

Find Julian on Twitter: @jnoisecat

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.

Best of 2020 Q&A: Jana G. Pruden

Jana G. Pruden appears on our Best of 2020 list for the piece “He said, they said: inside the trial of Matthew McKnight.” You can read it at The Globe and Mail.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Jana’s answers:

How did you start working on this story?

I had been keeping an eye on this case, and thought it might make an interesting longform story. I pitched it to my editor shortly before the trial began, in late September 2019.

How long did it take to write this piece?

The bulk of the time on this piece was spent in court. The trial was originally slated for 10 weeks, but ultimately went longer (63 days in total). I was in court every day, and I didn’t start writing the story until the trial was over. It took me 12 days to go through my material and get a draft down, and a lot of time after that to get it to its final version.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

There were a number of very challenging aspects to this piece, especially the sheer amount of information. By the trial’s end, I had nearly 4,000 pages of notes from court and many hours of outside interviews. With 13 separate allegations being heard in a single trial, the complexity of the case itself was also a challenge. I really wanted to give people a deeper look into the court’s handling of the case, but I also knew looking at the details of each charge and how they were defended would be impossible.

Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?

Coming up in daily news with tight deadlines, I’m not too picky about my rituals. That’s why I think breaking news is such good training for all other kinds of writing. If you can file a full story from your car in a snowstorm or crouched in a hallway somewhere, every other creative comfort is gravy. When a story has to be written, I just have to get it done.

That said, coffee definitely helps.

What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

The pandemic didn’t have a huge impact on this particular story, but in a general sense the pandemic has introduced some interesting challenges. These include making it harder to report and meet people in person, which can be such an important part of feature writing.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?

There were a lot of twists and turns, but not necessarily any big surprises in this piece.

What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

I was really moved by the reaction to the piece. Most importantly, I got a lot of very meaningful messages from people who felt their personal experiences were represented, whether or not they had any relation to this particular case. I was glad it connected with people in that way.

For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

Don’t compare your first draft with other people’s finished pieces.

What writing projects are you working on currently?

I don’t like to share projects in progress because I’m always afraid of getting scooped! But I have a couple of things in the works that I’m really excited about, so stay tuned.

Find Jana on Twitter: @jana_pruden

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.

Best of 2020 Q&A: Jody Porter

Jody Porter appears on our Best of 2020 list for the piece “Pathfinding.” You can read it at Maisonneuve Magazine.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Jody’s answers:

How did you start working on this story?

I’d been thinking about my experience covering Chanie Wenjack’s story and Gord Downie’s Secret Path for several years, trying to figure out if it was the peak of my career as a journalist, or the moment when I most obviously failed to do my job – to speak truth to power, even when that power was a beloved, cultural icon, with a terminal disease.

But after more than two decades of reporting mainly on Indigenous issues, I was also wary of taking up more public space as a non-Indigenous person to work through my own feelings. Then I met journalist and scholar Minelle Mahtani at a dinner party where I told a version of my story, and she encouraged me to write it in hopes of providing insight for journalism students and others. That was the permission I needed to move forward. I am so grateful for it.

How long did it take to write this piece?

About five months from the beginning to submitting it for publishing.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

The honesty it required. It is the most true thing I have ever written. My friend and Anishinaabe Kwe journalist Jolene Banning read an early draft and pushed me to be more honest about my sense of being a white saviour and I cried my way through a rewrite of that section.

Another friend and fellow writer, Susan Goldberg, read what I thought was my final draft and suggested that the piece would be stronger if I included a reference to my own sexual assault. It was not advice I wanted to hear. I thought it was too big of a risk to make the piece so much about me.

I resisted the change and set the piece aside for about a month, figuring that I had taken it as far as I could. Then, slowly, the wisdom in Susan’s advice sunk in. I started to work on it again, including my own victimhood, surprising myself as the meta-narrative – the inherent power of telling one’s own story – emerged.

Do you have a particular writing ritual?

For most of my writing life as a reporter, I have had a daily deadline as the only motivation I needed. But this piece was much different. It haunted me for a while as I struggled to find a way in. Then I set myself a schedule of writing for an hour a day – whatever I got down on the page – and then leaving it until the next day. That carried me through to a first draft.

What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

More than the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, the BLM resurgence that followed and growing awareness of racial injustices across North America in 2020 made me feel a particular responsibility to write with care; to honour the courageous work of Pacinthe Mattar, Denise Balkissoon, Christine Genier and many others who are exposing the limits of the way journalism is practiced in Canada and lighting a way forward.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject, during the process?

That there was a great relief, when it was finally done and published, after the deep pain of finding the right words and my path through them.

What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

I’ve been overwhelmed with positive responses from people I’ve known or worked with in the past, as well as from complete strangers, and, delightfully, the former head of my college journalism program.

I’m also humbled by the fact the piece has been added to the reading lists for some university courses, was referred to and footnoted in Denise Balkissoon’s Atkinson lecture on objectivity and garnered me an interview with Jesse Brown on the Canadaland podcast.

For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favorite writing tip to share

Write to find your own answers. Rely on friends/fellow writers to help you keep you honest, then blaze your own trail to the truth.

What writing projects are you working on currently?

I’ve had to stop writing for a bit as I resume active cancer treatments, which limit energy and play tricks on the mind. But I expect as my ultimate deadline approaches, I may find I have a few more things to contemplate, and share, in writing.

Find Jody on Twitter: @cbcreporter

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.